A middle-aged man gets crushing chest pain while shoveling snow. He’s short of breath, light-headed, and sweating. He has the telltale signs of a heart attack. Yet, instead of calling for an ambulance, he goes inside, sits down and waits to see if the symptoms go away.
People delay going to the hospital, waiting hours sometimes before they seek help for what is a life-and-death emergency. Every minute counts in a heart attack. The longer the delay, the greater the chance of damage to the heart and the lower the chance of surviving.
Heart attack symptoms vary from person to person
Many people think a heart attack is sudden and intense, like a “movie” heart attack, where a person clutches his or her chest and falls over. The truth is that many heart attacks start slowly, as a mild pain or discomfort and not always in the chest. Warning signs of a heart attack include:
- Uncomfortable pressure, fullness, squeezing or pain in the center of the chest that lasts more than a few minutes
- Pain spreading to the shoulders, neck or arms
- Shortness of breath that occurs with or before chest discomfort
- Lightheadedness, fainting, sweating or nausea along with chest discomfort
- Discomfort in other areas of the upper body including one or both arms, the back, neck, jaw or stomach
The best-known symptom of a heart attack - the agony of an elephant’s foot on your chest - means that the heart muscle is crying for oxygen it no longer is getting, because a clot has sealed a plaque-narrowed coronary artery. If you are seen in the first hour of a heart attack, we have very effective means to make those events have much less impact on your heart muscle. Going to the hospital promptly is what it’s all about.
Studies have shown the longer heart attack patients wait to get to a hospital, the less likely they will benefit from emergency treatment. If you wait more than 10 to 12 hours and you are having a heart attack, the damage is basically done and it’s too late to benefit from the treatments we have.
If you think you are having heart problems or a heart attack, get help immediately.